Having diabetes is not just about managing sugar levels; it can also mess with your sleep. Imagine trying to relax while dealing with sugar swings, frequent bathroom trips, or restless legs. These are real struggles for many with diabetes or prediabetes, impacting their daily lives. But there are ways to improve sleep despite these challenges. Checking sugar levels before bed and sticking to calming routines can help you get better rest and stay healthier, even with diabetes. 

Key Facts

  • Diabetes affects sleep quality due to blood sugar control issues.
  • Poor sleep can make blood sugar worse.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) are common sleep disorders in people with diabetes.
  • To sleep better with diabetes, check sugar levels, stick to a bedtime routine, and get enough sleep.
  • Good sleep is vital for managing diabetes and staying healthy.

How Does Diabetes Affect Sleep?

Diabetes can affect your sleep in several ways, making it difficult to get quality rest. It's estimated that one in two people with type 2 diabetes has sleep problems. This is due to many different reasons, such as unstable blood sugar levels and the effects of sleep on blood glucose control. Some key factors that can disrupt sleep for people with diabetes include:

  • Sleep apnea: This sleep disorder causes repeated breathing pauses during sleep, leading to frequent awakenings and poor sleep quality. Sleep apnea is common in people with diabetes, especially those with obesity.
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) at night: Low blood sugar levels overnight can cause sweating, headaches, hunger, and other symptoms that disrupt sleep. Hypoglycemia is a risk factor for poor sleep in diabetes.
  • High blood sugars: During the day and lower during the night to prevent low levels in your morning. This can cause symptoms such as feeling tired or foggy while awake but unable to sleep well at bedtime.
  • Obesity and poor circulation: Excess weight can contribute to sleep apnea and poor circulation, leading to numbness, tingling, or restless legs that disrupt sleep. Obesity is a major risk factor for sleep issues in type 2 diabetes .
  • Frequent urination from high blood sugar: Uncontrolled high blood glucose levels can lead to excess urination at night as the kidneys expel excess sugar. This nocturia (excessive nighttime urination) is a common cause of sleep disruption in diabetes.
  • Diabetic neuropathy: Nerve damage from high blood sugar levels is a common diabetes complication. Neuropathy can cause tingling, numbness, or pain in the feet and legs, making it difficult to get comfortable and fall asleep. Using foot creams, massagers, or other remedies may help relieve neuropathy symptoms at night. However, managing blood sugar is key to preventing further nerve damage.

With these various sleep-disrupting factors, people with diabetes must maintain a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine. This can help prevent excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue that can further worsen diabetes management.

How Does Poor Sleep Affect Blood Sugar Levels?

Poor or insufficient sleep can disrupt the body's natural circadian rhythms and hormonal balance, increasing insulin resistance and blood sugar levels. This can start a vicious cycle in which poor sleep worsens blood sugar control, further disrupting sleep quality.

Poor sleep habits, especially if chronic, can negatively impact metabolism and hormone regulation. Lack of sleep triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which promote increased blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and fat storage. Over time, this can contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or worsening existing diabetes.

Furthermore, chronic poor sleep is associated with increased inflammation in the body, which can raise the risk of various health issues like heart disease, stroke, cancer, and neurodegenerative conditions. For people with diabetes, managing sleep is crucial for overall health and reducing complications.

Lack of quality sleep impairs glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, making it harder to control blood sugar levels. It also affects cognitive function, mood, and the body's ability to handle stress, indirectly impacting diabetes management. Getting sufficient, high-quality sleep is essential for optimal blood sugar control and overall health for those with diabetes.

Getting poor sleep or insufficient sleep can disrupt the body's natural circadian rhythms and hormonal balance, leading to increased insulin resistance and higher blood sugar levels. This can start a vicious cycle where poor sleep worsens blood sugar control, which then further disrupts sleep quality.

What Sleep Disorders Are Common in People with Diabetes?

Some of the more well-known sleep disorders that are common in people with diabetes are Restless Legs Syndrome and Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Restless Leg Syndrome

People with diabetes may experience restless leg syndrome (RLS). This is when the person has an overwhelming urge to move their legs, which can interrupt sleep or cause them to wake up at night. RLS commonly causes problems in people who have neuropathy, peripheral vascular disease, and other medical conditions that affect circulation, such as heart failure, kidney disorders, and Parkinson's Disease. It also affects women more often than men due to hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and childbirth. RLS becomes worse during times of stress because of higher levels of adrenaline production by the body.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Many people with diabetes may not even be aware that they are experiencing Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). They may have symptoms of snoring, gasping for air during sleep, and waking up often at night. OSA typically occurs in overweight people, males, and people older than 50. It is more common in people with diabetes because of higher levels of the hormone serotonin, which relaxes throat muscles during sleep time.

How to Get a Good Night's Sleep?

One possible solution for a better night's sleep is using an insulin pump or continuous monitoring device to help you regulate your dosage more efficiently. Another option is to ensure you eat regularly during the day, resulting in stable energy levels throughout the day and less chance of hypoglycemic episodes at night.

But there are other things you can do that may help remedy this problem, either by preventing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep:

  • Test your blood sugar levels before going to bed to address any issues that may arise at night.
  • Try a bedtime routine that helps you relax and prepare for sleep, such as reading, doing gentle stretches, or breathing exercises.
  • Eat regularly throughout the day to keep your blood sugar stable. Avoid heavy meals before bed unless instructed by your doctor, as these will raise insulin levels, which could affect sleep quality.
  • Everyone has no "perfect" or right amount of sleep, but it should be related to age. New research suggests that adults between 18 and 64 need seven hours of sleep per night, whereas adults 65 and older may only require six hours; children aged three to five need 11–13 hours, while kids from six to 13 need at least nine hours.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does taking a nap lower blood sugar?

Napping can sometimes lower blood sugar levels by making your body more sensitive to insulin, but the impact can vary. It's not a replacement for a healthy lifestyle, so keep exercising, eating well, and taking your meds as directed. If you're unsure about napping and diabetes, ask your doctor.

Can drinking a lot of water lower your blood sugar?

Drinking lots of water can lower your blood sugar by helping your kidneys eliminate extra sugar. It's good for overall health and can help control blood sugar, but it's not the only thing to do. Monitor your blood sugar, eat well, stay active, and take your medications as your doctor tells you.

Conclusion

Sleep is essential to staying healthy and happy, so it's not just a matter of convenience but an issue of quality of life for those with diabetes. First, ensure you get enough sleep daily by sticking to your regular bedtime routine no matter when you wake up (or if you don't go to bed). Second, blood sugar levels should be regulated by eating regular meals throughout the day that include protein, fat, and carbohydrates; this way, they won't drop too low after dinner when most people eat dessert.

Sources

At Diabetic Me, we are committed to delivering information that is precise, accurate, and pertinent. Our articles are supported by verified data from research papers, prestigious organizations, academic institutions, and medical associations to guarantee the integrity and relevance of the information we provide. You can learn more about our process and team on the about us page.

  1. NIDDK The Impact of Poor Sleep on Type 2 Diabetes
  2. WebMD Type 2 Diabetes and Sleep

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About the Author

Ely Fornoville

Hi, I'm Ely Fornoville, and I am the founder of Diabetic Me. Being a type 1 diabetic since 1996, I developed a passion to help people learn more about diabetes. I write about diabetes and share stories from other diabetics around the world. I currently use a Medtronic Guardian 4 CGM and a MiniMed 780G insulin pump with Humalog insulin.

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